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Full text of "The Legacy Of Egypt"

286                          Egypt and Rome
law had in A.D. 212 become officially of universal application,
it, in its turn, was influenced by Hellenistic practice.
Perhaps the most curious anomaly is that it is from Egypt,
the home of bureaucratic absolutism, where civic autonomy was
tardily and grudgingly bestowed, that we get our most intimate
glimpse of how the affairs of a city-state were conducted. We
have, it is true, from the Greek world countless decrees, inscribed
on stone, but it is only in Egypt that we can read the actual
minutes of council meetings, and hear the councillors electing
the magistrates and discussing the supply of oil to the gymnasium
or the execution of a contract for cloth by the local guild of'
weavers. *
Our knowledge of Egypt is, in comparison with the rest of
the empire, so detailed that it is often very difficult for us to
tell whether an institution recorded in the papyri but unknown
elsewhere was in fact peculiar to Egypt, or if it is merely our
information that is deficient. To take an instance trivial in itself
but typical of many others, no one would guess from our literary
records of travel—which include the exceptionally circumstantial
narrative of the Acts—that a passport system existed in the
Roman Empire. Yet we know from the papyri that no one
could leave Egypt without a passport. Did St. Paul have to show
his papers wherever he travelled, and has the author of the Acts
not troubled to mention the fact ?' Or was the regulation peculiar
to Egypt ? Egypt was in many ways a peculiar province—and
in this particular case the unique rule that Roman senators
might not set foot in it without imperial permission may suggest
that the passport system was confined to it—but its peculiarity
can easily be exaggerated. The fact that papyrology is a separate
science, which demands of its students such specialized skill that
they cannot be at the same time historians, has encouraged the
tendency to treat Egypt as a country apart. Papyrologists too
often do not look beyond the boundaries of the province; and
Roman historians, daunted by the bulk and complexity of the